Windows Server 2019 – A further step towards the Hybrid Datacenter

Guest Author: Paul McDonald, IT & Infrastructure Engineer at Zupa

With the General Availability of Windows Server 2019 announced at Microsoft Ignite, I thought this would be a good time to highlight the great new features this release includes if you’re planning to install or migrate to it in the near future.

Windows Admin Center (formally Project Honolulu)

The evolution of well known ‘in-box’ management platforms like Server Manager and MMC, Windows Admin Center (WAC) is the next-generation graphical management platform for Windows Server. It’s the fastest growing Windows Server management toolset ever, gaining over a million managed nodes in a little over 2 month’s of General Availability.

It brings together a single management experience, built of formerly separate consoles including Event Viewer, Device Manager, Disk Management, Task Manager, Server Manager, Failover Cluster Manager, and Hyper-V Manager.

Previously, you’d need many consoles open at any one time to perform various tasks; now you can do most of what you need from within WAC (not all consoles are available at present, but more are being added regularly).

WAC is optimised for Windows Server 2019 (you can manage earlier versions with some limitations) and manages servers by using Remote PowerShell and WMI over WinRM. It allows you to manage Windows Server instances anywhere including physical systems, virtual machines, and also makes it easier for you to connect your Windows Server 2019 servers to Azure services such as Azure Backup, Azure File Sync and Azure Site Recovery in a hybrid scenario.

I imagine we’ll see a lot more functionality for this announced during Microsoft Ignite, and am looking forward to seeing what else it can do as it becomes an essential tool moving forward. It’s especially important for servers with Server Core installed as sconfig is now deprecated, so the only way you’ll be able to manage them eventually is with WAC or PowerShell.

Storage Migration Service

One thing that has previously made server migrations harder for some, is the lack of data migration options from older operating systems and storage platforms. A lot of environments will still have 2012, 2008 or even 2003 servers because in-place upgrades weren’t possible, and manual data migrations would be slow and cause major interruption to service and users.

The Storage Migration Service works in three phases:

  • Inventories your old servers
  • Transfers your data to modern targets
  • Then takes over the old server’s identity and networking so that users and applications cannot tell the migration even happened.

This feature is available in Windows Admin Center, and it allows you to perform migrations of many servers simultaneously to new targets running on premises, or in Azure. This is going to be a really useful tool for companies migrating to Windows Server 2019.

Storage Replica

This feature was first released for Windows Server 2016 Datacenter, and it enables synchronous and asynchronous block replication of volumes between servers or clusters for disaster recovery. It also enables you to create stretch failover clusters that span two sites, with all nodes staying in sync.

With Windows Server 2019, Microsoft have now made this available on the Standard edition, not just Datacenter, but installing it on servers running the Standard edition has the below limitations:

  • Can only replicate a single volume instead of an unlimited number of volumes
  • Volumes can only have one partnership instead of an unlimited number of partners
  • Volumes can only have a size of up to 2 TB instead of an unlimited size

Failover Clustering – File Share Witness

One of the witness options available for failover clustering, File Share Witness, has two new enhancements in Windows Server 2019

The first one blocks the use of a Distributed File System (DFS) share as a location. Adding a File Share Witness (FSW) to a DFS share can cause stability issues for the cluster, and this configuration has never been supported. Microsoft have now added logic to detect if a share uses DFS, and if DFS is detected, Failover Cluster Manager blocks creation of the witness and displays an error message.

The second one enables use of an FSW for several scenarios that were previously not supported:

  • No or poor internet access, preventing the use of a Cloud Witness
  • No shared drives for a disk witness
  • No domain controller connection as the cluster is behind a DMZ
  • A workgroup or cross-domain cluster where there’s no active directory CNO object

You can now create an FSW that does not utilise the Cluster Name Object (CNO), but instead simply uses a local user account on the server the FSW is connected to.

The way it works is that on the server you wish to place the FSW, create a local (not administrative) user account, give that local account full rights to the share, and connect the cluster to the share. You can only create this type of FSW through PowerShell.

On the subject of clustering – another feature worth noting in 2019 is that you can now move a cluster from one domain to another without needing to destroy the cluster to move it!

Congestion Control with LEDBAT

Windows Server 2019 brings a latency optimised network congestion control provider called LEDBAT, which stands for Low Extra Delay Background Transfer. LEDBAT is designed to automatically yield bandwidth to users and applications while consuming the entire bandwidth available when the network is not in use. It’s a scavenger protocol – it scavenges whatever network bandwidth is available on the network, and uses it. This will be useful when transferring ConfigMgr packages or Microsoft Updates, and it can optimise any TCP sender-side workload.

App Compatibility Feature on Demand (FoD) for Server Core

For most scenarios, the Server Core installation option is the best (and recommended) choice. It’s lightweight and has a smaller footprint, which comes with a smaller attack surface, making it less vulnerable than the Server with Desktop Experience option.

In the past, running apps that require local GUI interaction on Server Core may have produced a number of problems. They either failed to install, failed later or just didn’t run right.

Microsoft have added a new Server Core-based application compatibility feature to address these problems, which you can install or uninstall on demand. If some of the apps you’ve been using don’t run or don’t run well on Server Core, you’ll see that most of them run better with the App Compatibility FoD.

This FoD improves the app compatibility of Server Core by including a set of binaries and packages from Server with Desktop Experience, without adding any of the GUI. The package is available on a separate ISO and installs on Server Core only.

I’m sure this will help to increase the uptake in Server Core installs, as application compatibility has been a big stumbling block in the past. The fact that you can now install Exchange Server 2019 on Server Core shows that Microsoft are putting a lot of effort into it!

What this means for me

I think Microsoft are doing great things at the moment. They’re listening to what their customers want, and they’re adding new features all the time. As I’m working within a Microsoft Silver Application Development Partner environment, I’m really looking forward to watching the Ignite sessions this year to see what else Windows Server 2019 with Azure will bring us, there’s bound to be more!